Author Serena Baldwin is a first year M.S. student in the Division of Food and Nutrition Policy and Programs.
With multiple master’s degrees and over two decades of professional experience, Michiel Bakker was already a global hospitality leader when he came to the Friedman School.
While working as the director of the Food Team at Google, Bakker led Google’s ‘food @ work’ program, which provides over 175 thousand meals to nearly 65,000 Googlers in 55 countries globally. Of course, such a position comes with great responsibility. Recognizing the critical role that food and nutrition play in public health, as well as how the broader food system impacts global economies and the environment, Bakker sought to deepen his knowledge in these disciplines. The Friedman School’s online graduate certificate program in Nutrition for Industry Professionals and Entrepreneurs offered a flexible option to meet his needs and an opportunity to “do it with the best of the best,” said Bakker.
“Being exposed to differing views and contexts forces you to address your biases, expand your horizons, and embrace differences.”
As a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Bakker was eager to delve into coursework focused on applying a systems-thinking approach when managing the complexities of operating in food. “The program made me realize one more time that the food system is a complex system. It does not have a set of defined challenges or solutions and if you acknowledge that you’re part of it you realize there are no perfect answers,” Bakker said. Knowing that there are no one-size solutions to food systems issues emphasizes the value of learning from and sharing experiences with others. By engaging with students from all over the world within the Friedman program, Bakker was reminded that what works in the US may not be the best approach in other countries. He emphasized that “being exposed to differing views and contexts forces you to address your biases, expand your horizons, and embrace differences.”
“Your learning is not just about yourself. It is an opportunity to flex your own style and forge your own journey within a community.”
Despite having held more senior positions within the hospitality and foodservice industries than many of his classmates, Bakker had several opportunities for worthwhile learning and engagement. Because everyone in the program had come from a different starting place, he sought to uplift other students and share his own experiences in new and meaningful ways. “Your learning is not just about yourself. It is an opportunity to flex your own style and forge your own journey within a community,” said Bakker. The program also inspired him to have a heightened appreciation for registered dietitians and nutritionists. “When you work in food you have to take your responsibility in people’s lives seriously,” Bakker said. Thus, he viewed learning to work with dietitians more cohesively in a professional context as a true asset.
Rather than recounting specific learnings that stuck in his mind, Bakker described the program overall as an “intellectual journey.” Although what drew him in initially was a desire to have more knowledge of nutrition and food systems, what he gained was much more nuanced and diverse than he had anticipated. “The biggest gift was not my basic learnings, but the moments and the value proposition of the program as a whole,” said Bakker.